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Chinese Philosophy: Mencius (Week 4 Notes)

by: Yisu

Chinese Philosophy: Mencius (Week 4 Notes) PHIL 336

Marketplace > University of New Mexico > Philosophy > PHIL 336 > Chinese Philosophy Mencius Week 4 Notes
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About this Document

This note covers the central ideas found in Mengzi, where Mencius advocates that human nature is naturally good.
Chinese Philosophy
Emily McRae
Class Notes
Mencius, Mengzi, philosophy, Goodness, HumanNature, Confucianism, Confucius, HumanGoodness
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This 3 page Class Notes was uploaded by Yisu on Sunday September 25, 2016. The Class Notes belongs to PHIL 336 at University of New Mexico taught by Emily McRae in Fall 2016. Since its upload, it has received 4 views. For similar materials see Chinese Philosophy in Philosophy at University of New Mexico.


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Date Created: 09/25/16
Mengzi (Mencius) (9/13 and 9/15) (Week 4)  Mencius was born 100 years after Confucius’ death, roughly living from 372 B.C. to 289 B.C.  He is often considered the “other” great thinker in Confucianism, second to only Confucius himself, though another great exponent of Confucianism will arise in Xunzi, who was born probably just decades after Mencius’ death.  Mencius is famous for being the one to argue that “human nature is good”. According to him, not only do human beings have a nature that each of us is born with, but that nature must necessarily be good. He presents many analogies and real world examples for this argument.  The most famous argument he makes for human nature being inherently good is the thought experiment of “a Child falling into a Well”. Suppose that you see a child playing near a well, and playful as all children are, he comes too close and falls into the well. Can you truly imagine that either you yourself or any human being who sees this happening would not feel a sudden alertness rise up in your body and rush immediately to help? If you think that this is reasonable for nearly all human beings, then human beings must be good at heart. o One might argue that not all people take action to help when similar situations arise in their daily lives, and sociological research on this have provided many examples where the passersby ignores someone in need of assistance. But what does the passerby actually think even as he/she walks by and does not reach out to help? Is it pity or is it disdain for the victim? I think most of us will probably assume that it is pity—you would feel sorry for the victim rather than think them a nuisance, and it is because this is most like what we would feel ourselves, even if we do not reach out to help. This fundamental difference between how we naturally perceive the victim contributes to this argument that we by nature are good, since we become concerned and feel sorry for the victim rather than distain and hate them for their misfortune.  Mencius also makes the analogy of virtues being part of the human body just as 4 limbs are part of each of us. The 4 Confucian Virtues mentioned by him are: Benevolence, Righteousness, Ritual Propriety, and Wisdom. These are 4 “sprouts” that naturally grow within us since birth, and if we continue to nurture these sprouts, they will grow as we do and become more mature and complete qualities of our character. But depending on how harsh our life circumstances are and what external influences tell us, we may fail to cultivate these, though it is not necessarily through our own fault, and this is why there are people who do evil. Passage in Mengzi 2A6 sets out these virtues. Passage 6A2 tells us about how our nature can be damaged by external influences. o He says that the very fact that we have compassion for others in our society leads us to having the virtue of Benevolence. o We are allowed to have our own preference of good and bad, this is a heart of Distain for the bad things, and it leads us to like the good, and in following this good that we prefer over evil, we have Righteousness. o We know to respect our superiors, our elders, our parents and their wisdom. Even the rebelliously revolutionary thinkers had to learn from their parents when they were young. This deference leads us to the correct mannerisms when interacting with other people, and this leads us to (ritual) Propriety. o We approve and disapprove of facts we are told of the world and actions of other through our intuitive sense of the just and unjust, from this we come to know right from wrong, this leads us to our own firm beliefs of good and bad, and so we are led to become wise through Wisdom.


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